Yesterday was the end to an era, I finally left Turf Centre where I'd been working on and off ever since coming back from Afritrex at the beginning of the year. Thank you so much to George, Roy and Beverley for giving me the chance to earn a few pounds while I decided what to do with the rest of my life!
Exploring new places, that's what its all about, right!?? So when Anita from Dzien Dobry TV in Poland called at the start of the week to ask if I'd like to visit their studios in Warsaw I jumped at the chance.
Early starts every morning are the norm for me, I usually wake just before my alarm goes off at 05:30hrs and head to the swimming pool shortly after, but a flight out of Luton Airport at 08:10hrs meant a 4 o'clock start which was ridiculously early even for me.
Simple enough through the usual airport procedures, I just wish that the UK's airport officials would smile a little more - I know they're at work and I know its a serious job they're doing but come on people!
After limited sleep the night before I fell asleep as we cleared the coastline of the east of England and awoke with popping ears as our plane dropped the final few hundred metres towards the runway with another new country appearing to me through the clouds below and initial impressions were good; an organised, green landscape with small villages everywhere and as we approached the city confines light industrial units gave way to the more expected cityscape. I was about to land in Warsaw.
Swiftly through customs and passport control and into the arrivals area where Anita was waiting for me and whisked me away to the studio's car which whisked us, at the speed of light, into the city centre passing ugly high rise apartments overshadowing some of the more traditional older buildings which had survived WWII. Something like 90% of the city was flattened during the bitter struggle which shaped this part of the world 60 years ago resulting in a very new city but one which looks like it was rushed together, understandably to house the masses of course, but slowly new more attractive development seems to be replacing the architecture of the 60's and 70's....never a bad thing!
I checked into the Mercure Hotel, a very modern designer pad right in the centre of town and importantly only 5 minutes walk from where I have to be in the morning for the program! Free internet in the room too, excellent!
Time to explore....with map in hand, backpack on and a sense of adventure returning I hit the main street heading for the famous Palace of Culture and Science, a 30 storey feat of architecture built by the Russians between 1952 and 1955. Its the eighth tallest building in the EU and the tallest in Poland so I had to get to the top and after paying the Z30 shot to the top in one of the high speed lifts for an awesome view of the surrounding city and sights beyond. It offers incredible views of the surrounding city and allows you to see well past the River Wisla to the countryside beyond.
On the way into the tower I spotted three Land Rover's parked up in formation outside the building, all customised ready for an expedition, one even had a rooftent on top - I had to find out more! The guys were from a group called Podroze 4x4 and organise expeditions within Europe and are currently gathering recruits for an expedition to Yugoslavia in September, shame I won't even be in Europe by then otherwise I'd have joined them. We chatted for nearly an hour about my Afritrex expedition, the highs and lows, how are different vehicles were kitted out and exchanged business cards and the commitment that we'd keep in touch in case there could be a possible future expedition together somewhere down the line.
Plenty more to see in this city I thought with a few hours to go until sunset it was off again, following my nose feeling happy to have met some like-minded people and with a spring in my step I trundled through the main park filled with people on their way home from work on sunny Friday afternoon...for now.
On a couple of occasions I thought to myself 'time to head back to the hotel now Ben' but kept stomping, my inquisitive nature getting the better of me as I wound my way past statues, monuments and fountains eventually popping out in the old town - a how pleased I was to have kept going!
The rather drab prefab buildings had now given way to older, more architecturally inspiring delights all rising four floors from the street below and adding a new element to the city for me...history at last, I watched as tour groups filed past me; up to 50 people following the pointing purple hand the tour guide thrust towards the heavens in a vain attempt to grasp every one's attention and focus. I even thought about tagging on the end but decided against it in favour of a particularly quaint little restaurant nestled in the corner of the main square...just in time as the heavens were about to open too.
After a seriously good portion of pork ribs, sweet cabbage and roast potatoes I considered the route home...at least an hour's walk and the rain was really dropping out of the sky at quite a rate of knots which meant only one thing, getting seriously wet. I pitied the band who were assembling en masse in the square even more though...the start of what would probably end up a total wash-out!
Back at the hotel I stripped off, showered and pondered the thoughts of the day and the great city I'd just had such fun exploring, hit the sack just after midnight ready for the day ahead.
Usual story - body clock wakes me up before the electronic version and 20 minutes later breakfast arrives; a very Polish breakfast but good all the same, with rye bread, cornflakes and yoghurt - certainly enough to keep me going until lunch anyway.
The studio where TVN film the Saturday morning show was a simple five minute walk away and as I made my way into the room I was greeted by a bunch of yet more friendly English speakers making me feel very welcome with morning coffee, cereal and make-up, yuk.
Why do they have to make you appear quite so ghost like!?! It baffles me and even made me giggle silently as the lady applied a liberal coating of hair spray to my usual messy hair, the first time I'd had this on since dressing up for a school play I think. In the ad break the two hosts made their way over to me and introduced themselves, sat me down in the standard green-room sofa and then we were live, me chatting away to them understanding everything of their perfect English!
09:37hrs - my slot on national Polish TV. It drew ever closer and as it did I felt more confident about the new environment I'd been thrown into over the last few weeks, I strode up to the table I'd be filmed at and took my place in between the fake fruit and designer bowls ready for the stream of questions they'd be firing at me, 3...2....1 and we're off again.
Five minutes of good conversation and only one slip up from the host, I'm not living in Coventry, I was born there!! Excellent job all round and off set ten minutes later before being escorted downstairs to another interview with the internet side of TVP, this time a little longer and more in depth and I will stick a link up here once I get it from them I promise.
Its amazing to me that you can fly to the other side of Europe and back in 48hrs all for 20 minutes of interview, still that's the crazy world we live in.
Just about got to the airport in time to get my flight home after an extended lunch with Anita, the excellent host who'd been looking after me since I arrived, and once the thunderstorm which delayed our take-off by 30mins had passed I was off back to the UK.
Well done Poland, a really damn fine experience all round.